There is something about the start of a new school year and the promise of what is to come that feels so energizing, ironically as we begin to get hints of nature slowing down. Two weeks into the school year and the easy days of summer feel distant. In between my book club meeting this week and stopping to browse at BookCourt after dinner last night, I found myself with a self made fall semester reading syllabus (and a copy of Mindy Kaling’s latest and the much-hyped Fates and Furies). My students got started on making their own blogs this week and one of their assignment options was to write about their summer reading–and I realized I better join them (though this isn’t the only summer reading conclusion to arrive a bit late.)
I wrote last month about my July of nonfiction–it was a beautifully slow month of summer where I soaked in the likes of Rebecca Solnit and Mary Oliver. Last year was one of the more stressful for me, and the power of their words sustained and reinvigorated me. Fiction was an opportunity to escape, and to be honest I think my brain needed a rest. These books all deserve their own post (and a few I hope to still get to), but here are the highlights of my summer fiction, based on the list I made in June:
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng: The favorite child of a Chinese-American family is found drowned in a lake. The narrative that surrounds this incident is beautifully written and the ache and the layers that surround the tension of the book’s title is profound, and leaves the reader thinking so much about what we choose not to say.
The Little Friend by Donna Tartt: I picked this us last fall, wanting to complete my reading of Donna Tartt after The Secret History and The Goldfinch. I knew my school year brain probably couldn’t handle the length and depth of Tartt, so I saved it for summer. The main character is part young Scout Finch, part Harriet the Spy who decides she wants to investigate the death of her brother, who was found hanging in a tree when she was still a baby. While reading this, I understood why it’s many people’s least favorite by Tartt, but I thought her ability to capture late childhood and loss was brilliant.
To Kill a Mockingbird (reread) & Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee: I have so much to say about these books, and I hope to post about them separately. In a nutshell, if you are going to read Watchman, reread Mockingbird first. Remember it wasn’t edited. I think the major tension (especially for a white audience) was that readers want their heroes to stay up on a pedestal, and my slight prodding would question if that is a realistic, or even healthy, way to view anyone. There is a lot to grapple with surrounding Watchman, and at the end of the day, I think it’s worth it.
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel: I’ve been reading and studying a lot about art lately, and I’ve always loved what the combination of words and pictures can do, whether it’s Shaun Tan, Brian Selznick, Marjane Santrapi, or Chris Van Allsburg. This graphic novel is described by Bechdel as a “tragicomic” and felt so insightful, reflective, and necessary. Interestingly, this summer Duke chose it as a summer reading book and a student protest gained a lot of national traction. In my mind, it should be on a required reading list.
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson: I absolutely loved Life After Life, which I read on my honeymoon a few years ago. This is a “companion” text that follows the main character’s brother, Teddy. Told in a non-linear narrative, its central plot is on Teddy’s experiences as a pilot in World War Two, but spans his entire life. There is so much it asks the reader to consider about history, time, the weight of memory, empathy, and family–I highly recommend both books.
Happy fall reading!